Reduce spam and information overload with Shortmail

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Shortmail is a new web based email service that promises to reduce your spam levels, among other things. Designed to “re-invent email” Shortmail offers some interesting solutions to the problem of inbox overload, especially where spam is concerned.  When I was first looking at Shortmail, I was rather taken aback by their concept. Their solution to spam, as well as many other email problems, is to limit the messages that can be sent through their service. Their limits include not allowing attachments in their emails, as well as a 500 character limit on each email sent or received.

At first glance, this seems rather ludicrous, especially for someone like me who loves to write long letters. However, with an open mind, I set out to explore what Shortmail has to offer, and I have to say I was rather pleasantly surprised.

To begin with Shortmail, you must sign up for their service using your Twitter name and account. Eventually they will be allowing other options for signing up but bear in mind that this service is brand new and they want to take baby steps. Don’t have a Twitter account? Easy enough to sign up for one at their website too and then you’re ready to start sending and receiving Shortmail. The sign up process is very quick and easy and consists of filling out a short page of information including your Twitter info. Once done, you’re ready to start using the service.

imageThe service itself is nice and simple, rather basic, and easy to navigate. For those who are already familiar with other web-based email programs, you’ll feel right at home in Shortmail. You may even find that it’s clean, sharp interface is a nice change from other email services that are constantly adding more and more to the page until you feel overwhelmed by the available options. Shortmail is definitely not like that. It has a counter in the lower right corner of every message you type, to let you know your character count. This gives a nice, conversational feel to each email, instead of making you wade through multiple pages, and in general the interface is very comfortable to use. Each message, when you reply, has a handy button to “Send & Archive” so you can get your reply sent and remove the whole conversation from your active inbox at the same time. This is a nice feature that adds to the time saving value of Shortmail as well. I know, it might seem silly to care about one less click, but in the digital world, clicks are both time and money. One extra click, when added to every single thing you do on the computer or internet, adds up over the course of a day or a week or a lifetime, and could even equal carpal tunnel. Therefore, I say, cut down on my extra clicks in any way I can, and Shortmail does this quite well.

Now, looking at what Shortmail offers, you might think, “there are already many ways on the internet to send short messages to people, and I can also use text messaging, for that matter. So what does Shortmail offer that these other options don’t?”

Well, to begin with, Shortmail is an email address. Not a cell number and not a public forum to exchange messages. How many times in a week do you give your email address out? If you’re anything like me, it’s a high number. When you give your email address to someone, you’re expecting to get a message from them. In the case of personal correspondence, you’re expecting to receive a message from people that actually matter to you, that have something to say that you want to hear. Now, you could give them your cell phone number instead, and they could text you, but what if the person you want to hear from doesn’t like texting? Believe me, it does happen. What if they want to send you a message in the middle of the night, or when you’re at work, or some other time when it’s not convenient to get a text? What if something happens with your cell service and you aren’t getting your texts on time? There’s tons of reasons to give someone your email address rather than some other way to contact you and those are only a few of them.

The point here, is that when you open your Shortmail inbox, you can expect to see it full of messages you actually want to read. Why? Because the 500 character limit and the attachment embargo make it so most spam messages don’t make it into your inbox in the first place. Think about it. Take a look at the spam in your other email boxes. How many of those messages have less than 500 characters and no attachment? In my case, most of the spam I get, especially lately for some reason, is from people trying to get me to sign up for some site for dating or social networking or other ‘friend finder’ pages. Anyone who has ever posted anything on Craigslist knows what this is like. You get messages from supposedly real people saying “I want to meet you!” or some variant, and they include a picture of themselves or of something else that is supposed to get you to rush over to that site and sign up immediately. Now, some of these messages have less than 500 characters, but the included picture means it won’t make it into Shortmail. Some of them don’t have pictures but they do go over the character limit. In either case, I haven’t seen a single one of these things show up in my Shortmail box in the time I have had it. That means, to me, that I have an email address that I can give to the people I care about and I can be comfortable knowing I won’t have to wade through mountains of spam to get the messages I actually want to read. Even in things like Gmail, with it’s excellent filters and spam catching technology, I still get spam in my inbox that has to be moved to the spam folder manually. Granted, it’s not going to kill me to click an extra time to put it in there, but it’s just one more annoyance I don’t have to deal with in Shortmail.

imageWhat happens when someone sends a message that doesn’t fall within the limits of Shortmail? The Shortmail servers will send them a polite note telling them that Shortmail has these limitations and offers them the chance to send the message again after editing it. It’s that simple. Just like everything else with Shortmail, they are sticking to the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple Sherlock).

Why 500 characters? Can you really have a worthwhile conversation that consists of emails that have less than 500 characters? Yes. You really can. Take a look at your email box  and count the characters in the emails you care about. You might find that most of them come in just under that limit. And the ones that don’t, well they can always be broken up into multiple emails. Another reason that 500 character limit is useful is that people will now have to choose their words carefully and concisely to be sure they are getting the info across that is important, without filling the page with useless drivel as well. This limit puts the burden of being clear and concise on the sender, and lifts the burden of wading through 20 pages of rambling from your shoulders as well. Shortmail means more organized emails, as well as better conversations. When you are limited to 500 characters, the other person has a chance to get a word in edgewise. This has already been seen on things like Twitter or Subjot, and now it’s being applied to Shortmail as well.

imageThe only downside (and it’s a minor one to me), is that it currently requires a Twitter account and requires access to that account when you sign up. This really hasn’t been a problem for me, actually, but I have seen one or two folks complaining about it. Personally speaking, I have to wonder what the problem is from their point of view. So Shortmail wants to access your Twitter account. What’s the trouble? You’re afraid that Shortmail will suddenly turn SkyNet on us and start tweeting your personal emails between you and your girlfriend? It seems unlikely. However, having said that, I will also re-state that I never suggest anyone install or use any service or software that they don’t feel comfy with. If you don’t feel OK about it, don’t do it. Personally, I have no problem with it, but each of us must make those decisions for ourselves.

At this time, Shortmail doesn’t have a dedicated mobile app, but they have plans for one in the future on multiple platforms, and of course it can be accessed through any mobile internet browser that can handle it’s simple interface. Additionally, they do now offer instructions on how to setup your Android or other mobile email app to use shortmail, so while there isn’t a dedicated app, you can use it from your mobile device. I was able to access it on my Android with no problems. Additionally, they do offer the ability to send tweets to people to notify them that you have sent them a Shortmail message. This isn’t mandatory, but it’s a nice feature if you want to get a reply to something in a hurry.

Now, given that it’s a new service, and given that it’s got these limitations, I really don’t see Shortmail replacing my other email services any time soon, but it is turning out to be a great, really useful addition to my digital communications. If you’re looking for a new way to handle your spam and other inbox overload issues, give Shortmail a try. You could use it as your email for only people you know in real life, or only people you know online or only people you are in a guild with on some game. There’s no real limit to what you can use Shortmail’s advantages for, other than your own mental prowess. You could use it as your public facing email and offer it as your email address to any service that you expect will spam you whether you want them to or not. You could use it to re-direct spam from your other email services. It supports IMAP and POP services so you can even use it as your desktop email. The list goes on and on, and it’s longer than 500 characters. If you take a moment or four to think about it, I am willing to bet you can think of something you would gladly use Shortmail for. The good news there is that they are currently gathering an absolutely monumental amount of feedback from early users. They have even put a feedback tab in the Shortmail interface so you can send them messages as soon as you think of them, while using the service. That’s dedication to the product and the end-user, and not something we see very often in this kind of service, new or otherwise. Shortmail is a winner, in my book.

Until next time, my friends!

Tested On:  Chrome 5.0+ and Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium

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